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Shoveling Fuel for a Runaway Train: Errant Economists, Shameful Spenders, and a Plan to Stop Them All [Paperback]

Brian Czech
4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (27 customer reviews)
Price: CDN$ 30.41 & FREE Shipping. Details
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Book Description

Aug. 1 2002
Americans have been conditioned to appreciate, cheer, and serve economic growth. Brian Czech argues that, while economic growth was a good thing for much of American history, somewhere along the way it turned bad, depleting resources, polluting the environment, and threatening posterity. Yet growth remains a top priority of the public and polity. In this revolutionary manifesto, Czech knocks economic growth off the pedestal of American ideology. Seeking nothing less than a fundamental change in public opinion, Czech makes a bold plea for castigating society’s biggest spenders and sets the stage for the "steady state revolution."

Czech offers a sophisticated yet accessible critique of the principles of economic growth theory and the fallacious extension of these principles into the "pop economics" of Julian Simon and others. He points with hope to the new discipline of ecological economics, which prescribes the steady state economy as a sustainable alternative to economic growth.

Czech explores the psychological underpinnings of our consumer culture by synthesizing theories of Charles Darwin, Thorstein Veblen, and Abraham Maslow. Speaking to ordinary American citizens, he urges us to recognize conspicuous consumers for who they are—bad citizens who are liquidating our grandkids’ future. Combining insights from economics, psychology, and ecology with a large dose of common sense, Czech drafts a blueprint for a more satisfying and sustainable society. His ideas reach deeply into our everyday lives as he asks us to re-examine our perspectives on everything from our shopping habits to romance.

From his perspective as a wildlife ecologist, Czech draws revealing parallels between the economy of nature and the human economy. His style is lively, easy to read, humorous, and bound to be controversial. Czech will provoke all of us to ask when we will stop the runaway train of economic growth. His book answers the question, "How do we do it?"

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From Publishers Weekly

Economic growth is as American as apple pie and as popular as pizza. It has also, according to conservation biologist Czech, reached its limits and had led to "economic bloat," doing irreversible harm to the environment and literally destroying the future for the next generations. The main culprits here are mainstream, "neoclassical" economists (and also the political and economic elite supporting them) who through arcane theorization insist there are no limits to growth. Czech does a marvelous job of skewering the assumptions behind this notion and of introducing and synthesizing the perspectives of the opposing field, "environmental economics," which offers in the place of unbridled growth a "steady state" economy of low production and consumption and stable population. Moving through sometimes difficult ideas like "substitutability," "trophic levels" and "carrying capacity," Czech is always clear but never condescending, serious but not without humor. Agree with him or not, he is eminently clear. Yet it all falls apart when he discusses what might be done. Given the severity of the ecological crisis Czech finds us in, his recommendation that public opinion should shame conspicuous consumers among the rich into changing their ways is both vague and tepid. Missing are analyses of public policy options and considerations of political strategies that are as focused and nuanced as his critiques. Too bad, for when he's on his gameAin the first part of the bookAhe's as good at popularizing economics as Carl Sagan was science. (Sept.)
Copyright 2000 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.


“[Czech] breaks down complex concepts . . . into easy-to-understand and informative terms.”
(The Compendium Newsletter 2012-07-01)

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"We should double the rate of growth, and we should double the size of the American economy!" Read the first page
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Customer Reviews

4.5 out of 5 stars
4.5 out of 5 stars
Most helpful customer reviews
Brian has really impressed with his thoughtful analysis of our economy from both an intellectual and spirtual viewpoint. Unfortunately, none of this can be easily proved, but that is the case with the most important things in our lives, all of which have a spirtual base (religion, our role in society, role in the family, etc.).
Brian has uncovered and clarified issues which have probably been rolling around in the back of many of our minds, for example the link between Darwinism, Maslow's heirarchy, and sexuality. (The real spirit of how things work is deeply embedded in our passions, sexuality, etc, and we must uncover these things to get to the root of all critical life issues). He also proposed a viewpoint of the role of the wealthy in our society, how their behavior impacts our economny and ecology, and how we all are capable of the same behavior if we had a few more dollars in our pocket, so perhaps a little better understanding of each other across "classes" is in order.
Brian only loosely alluded to the role of addiction in the behavior of the wealthy (e.g. if you have a hundred million dollars, why do you need more, what are you trying to prove, and aren't you in a position to exercize the most important human / spirtual values?). Perhaps a closer look at the role of addiction and prevalance of addictive behaviors and how they contribute to "success" and sustain destructive behaviors and ego based delusions at the expense of a more spirtual well roundedness would be in order.
Brian makes an excellent point about how a real solution requires a change in the mindset of the populace (very Jeffersonian) to be more aware and more involved in solving these problems, however he falls short with solid solutions. But then again, maybe there are no simple solutions. This book is about awareness, and it does a great job at it.
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3.0 out of 5 stars Part I by itself would have earned 5 stars Jan. 3 2004
By A Customer
The first 106 pages of the book are well written and present a number of interesting notions about the dangers of our society's high regard for economic growth. Czech's arguments against the practicality of infinite growth (even though it may be theoretically possible according to neoclassical economists) are clear and well documented.
The underlying theme of the book is that neoclassical economists support a theory that the economy can sustain infinite growth, while the ecological economists claim that at some point, the growth will inevitably slow and then stop (more likely crash) because it is impossible in practicality to sustain growth forever. The book starts off with some interesting points about economic growth and sustainability in Part I, and then goes off the deep end in Part II as the author shares his proposed plan for achieving a 'steady-state economy.'
The plan in a nutshell: everyone should live very modestly, regardless of their income level, and whenever they notice someone else spending more money than they feel is necessary, they should immediately judge them and try to shame them into changing their ways. The goal is for society to become repulsed by conspicuous consumption to the extent that those in the financial top 1% of society are pressured to reform themselves and give their extra money away to those in need.
Although Part I is good enough to justify the purchase price, I would recommend skipping Part II in its entirety.
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5.0 out of 5 stars An arresting book to stop that train Sept. 3 2003
I was initially attracted to this book by its title: that our growth economy has become a runaway train into which our economic efforts are merely shoveling fuel is a great metaphor. ... I expected the second part of the book, in which the author prescribes his recommendations, to be weak. Instead, I found his proposal and its supporting arguments arresting. And the book throughout is engaging and highly readable.
I'm too lazy or rushed to try to provide a summary that will do justice to his proposal here. Suffice it to say that I think what he offers is workable and appropriate for our society. It is a way that can significantly help us to get there (to sustainability) from here, with the best of our system of government and cultural values intact. Let there be no mistaking it - Czech prescribes a nonviolent revolution! While I don't think his proposal is the last word on the matter or necessarily the main approach sustainability advocates should use, I do think it has influenced me significantly and in good ways that will foster effective action. Isn't that what you would want from a book like this?
Having said that, I think Czech's approach would be well supplemented by an emphasis on the creative possibilities of sustainability. Other sustainability voices (e.g., Hawken, Lovins, McDonough, Braungart) seem to emphasize the building, restoring, redesigning, and creating. Czech emphasizes restraint. Given our fix, both are needed. And greater attention to virtue, as David Orr has argued, would help all around.
Finally, I'll mention that ecological economics, which Czech espouses throughout the book, seems to be a real up-and-comer. I've just learned of a development called post-autistic economics, which started in France and is akin to ecological economics. Something is afoot here! We could be in for a paradigm shift, and this book could be instrumental in shaping and promoting it.
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5.0 out of 5 stars A plan to stop the runaway train June 26 2003
Brian Czech is a wildlife bioligist by profession and it is interesting that he should choose to write this book on the topic of steady-state economics. He notes in the prologue that his epiphany came while on a trawling boat in the Bering Sea. He wondered how the ship could hold the enormous catch it was bringing in until it dawned on him that the fish were being caught for their roe and then pumped out to sea "as a sort of ichthyological hamburger." It was the beginning of the realisation that the real roots of environmental destruction lay in economic growth and that if he wanted to save the forests and wildlife that he loved he would have to work on the challenging the assumptions of neo-classical economics.
Shoveling Fuel for a Runaway Train is divided into two parts. The first part is entitled "The Runaway Train" and it details the problems with economic growth and neo-classical economics and gives an overview of ecological economics. The second part is entitled "Stopping the Train" and it details Czech's model for a "Steady State Revolution" which would transform the growth economy to a steady state economy.
Czech does an exceptional job of explaining the problems of neo-classical economics and its obsession with growth. He cleverly redefines economic growth as "economic bloating" and he avoids bogging the reader down with technical terms. This makes the book accessible and interesting to readers of all backgrounds.
He argues that there is need for a Copernican revolution in the world view of neo-classical economists. "Only when we have a more Copernican economics will economists live in a world in which economic growth is limited, where the rest of us common folk are already stuck," Czech writes.
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Most recent customer reviews
3.0 out of 5 stars Rampant overspending begins with buying this book
I was drawn to this book after it was suggested as an alternative here at Amazon to a so-called "perpetual growth" tome (a book, by the way, that actually points to no... Read more
Published on Nov. 18 2003
5.0 out of 5 stars How to stop the "runaway train" of too much growth
Shoveling Fuel For A Runaway Train: Errant Economists, Shameful Spenders, And A Plant To Stop Them All by Brian Czech (Adjunct Professor at Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State... Read more
Published on July 26 2003 by Midwest Book Review
4.0 out of 5 stars Problem identified; solution in doubt
It is a curiosity of modern economic thought that some people--Brian Czech identifies them as "neoclassical" economists, led in part by the late Julian Simon--think there is no end... Read more
Published on May 18 2003 by Dennis Littrell
5.0 out of 5 stars Important, Smart, Practical
Shoveling Fuel for a Runaway Train will educate, enlighten, and even entertain you --- an accomplishment for any book, but an especially notable achievement when you consider that... Read more
Published on March 29 2003 by Tw Rutledge
5.0 out of 5 stars Economics for the conscientious
"Shoveling Fuel for a Runaway Train" states a dire dilemma that affects us all. Not only is the problem clearly stated, but the solution comprises the second half of the book: a... Read more
Published on March 23 2003 by Shannon S. Shiflett
4.0 out of 5 stars can't be beaten for lucidity
I'm grateful to the author for providing me with a copy of this well-written book and for penning it in such a snappy and easily comprehended style. Read more
Published on Feb. 18 2003 by Craig Chalquist, PhD, author of TERRAPSYCHOLOGY and DEEP CALIFORNIA
5.0 out of 5 stars Radical Economics
I am a visiting assistant professor in biology at a small liberal arts college north of Chicago. I teach an environmental biology course based on Miller's popular... Read more
Published on Jan. 3 2003 by Timothy C. Morton
3.0 out of 5 stars Living in a World without Color
The book has its moments. Including most of the first 106 pages, although there were a few "huh?'s" I had reading them. Read more
Published on Nov. 18 2002 by Amanda Peck
5.0 out of 5 stars LOU RUKYSER - READ THIS BOOK!!
Brian Czech is one of the few people who can step back from all the hype of our capitalist economy and look at where we've been and where we are going. Read more
Published on Aug. 19 2002 by klmacy
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